Peugeot endured mixed fortunes on the opening leg of the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Harri Rovanpera led the event by 20.7 seconds, but that was balanced by the persistent power steering problems, which beset reigning World ...
Peugeot endured mixed fortunes on the opening leg of the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Harri Rovanpera led the event by 20.7 seconds, but that was balanced by the persistent power steering problems, which beset reigning World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm's 206 WRC and left him languishing in 19th place, more than ten minutes behind his team-mate.
Rovapera's day on the stages to the west of the rally's base in Kemer had been largely trouble-free. The Finn wasn't ready, however, to predict a possible second world championship victory, pointing out that his lead wasn't insurmountable to the crews behind. That chasing pack? was headed by the hugely experienced Carlos Sainz. By his own admission Sainz still has plenty to learn about the Xsara WRC, but he settled on a set-up which was to his liking and stuck to it. Ford's François Duval belied his lack of WRC experience to hold an overnight third place, just 8.8 seconds off Sainz.
The Junior World Rally Championship runners, were headed by Suzuki driver Daniel Carlsson. The Swede had eked out an advantage of 1m 20s from his nearest category rival Kosti Katajamaki.
Marcus Gronholm's Peugeot 206 WRC suffered a hydraulic problem from the third stage onwards today. Richard Burn's 206 WRC developed a gearbox problem in the final stage of the day.
Harri Rovanpera moved into the lead of the rally after setting fastest time on the fourth stage. The Finn admitted that his position further back on the road was helping him, but he said he wasn't taking any big risks with his pace. His team-mate Richard Burns was sixth at the end of the day, having suffered a puncture on each one of this morning's three stages. Every one of the deflations was on the front-right of his 206. Gronholm didn't get the chance to get into a rhythm for this event, as power steering gremlins hit his Peugeot on the day's second stage. The reigning world champion lost the power steering on his 206. The unit was changed at lunchtime service, but the problem reoccurred on the road section out of service, leaving him to driove the final two stages of the day without power steering. In total the Finn lost ten minutes through the day.
Harri Rovanpera said: "The road surface is being swept clean in some places, but on the other hand the drivers are pulling some rocks out on to the road, so it's not all good news. The long stage the first time through wasn't so bad, but the second run at some of the stages is going to be very rough - not so nice. It's going to be hard work tomorrow, there's a long way to go - I'm not going to predict anything."
Richard Burns said: "I'm happy enough with the way things have gone. Okay we had the punctures this morning, but they didn't really cost us much time. The car was jumping out of third gear on the last stage, but the gearbox will be changed tonight.
Marcus Gronholm said: "I'm not really very interested in this rally now. The problem came the first time about five kilometres from the end of SS3. Then doing the long stage without power steering was really hard work, my arms are a little tired now."
Sebastien Loeb retired from the event after running out of fuel on the first loop of stages this morning. The other two Xsara WRCs ran without any problems.
Carlos Sainz ended leg one in second place after a trouble-free day in his Xsara WRC. The Spaniard reported that he was happy with the way his car was running and added that he wouldn't be making any changes to the car's set-up. Sainz did go off the road on the first loop of stages this morning, inflicting some minor panel damage to his Xsara, but he didn't lose any time. Once Loeb had retired, Colin McRae was faced with the task of running first on the road. The Scot said he was cleaning the stages for the cars behind him, but he was more dismayed at his time through the final stage of the day - which was 28 seconds slower than Sainz. McRae intended to make minor adjustments to his car overnight.
Carlos Sainz said: "I'm still not 100 percent confident in the car, but it is getting better with every kilometre. Tomorrow is the longest day of the rally, so we will see where we are then. There's not a lot more for me to say, except that I'm happy now."
Colin McRae said: "The day has been okay, but that last stage wasn't very good for us. I don't know what it was, if you look at Carlos's time it was good, but it just didn't work for us. The stage was a bit dirty on top, but that shouldn't have cost us that much time.
A team spokesperson said: "The crew took the wrong way leading to the refuelling point after SS3. Realising their mistake they turned around and went back. Unfortunately they didn't have enough fuel to cover the extra kilometres they had driven."
Markko Martin's Ford Focus RS WRC suffered a broken gearbox on the second stage this morning and Mikko Hirvonen retired with damaged suspension on SS4. François Duval's example ran without any problems.
Young Belgian driver François Duval is the leading Ford on the event, holding third after leg one. Duval posted two third fastest stage times and enjoyed a trouble-free day. Running further down the order helped him through the morning, but on the day's only repeated stage he still managed to set a highly competitive time. Markko Martin picked himself up from the disappointment of having to do a stage and a half (including all of the 30km Silyon test) with just first and second gears. Martin was fastest on SS5. Hirvonen retired with suspension failure on the first loop of stages this morning.
Markko Martin said: "It's so difficult to drive the car when you've only got two gears. Obviously you have no top speed, but it makes the corners hard to get into the rhythm when you're used to changing up or down the gearbox. It was a mechanical problem in the gearbox, all of the electronics and everything else was working but we just didn't have any drive."
François Duval said: "A good day. Everything is working well. Our tyre choices have been perfect. I have no complaints. Getting to know my new co-driver has been fine today."
Petter Solberg's Impreza WRC2003 retired three kilometres into the fourth stage with a broken track rod end. Tommi Makinen's sister car suffered suspension problems on SS4.
Tommi Makinen held fourth place overnight, having been passed by Carlos Sainz on the fifth and final stage of the opening leg. The Finn admitted he'd found plenty of big rocks around on the day's stages, and while he'd done his best to avoid most of them, a bent sumpguard after the first loop was testament to some of the rocks making it under the car. Solberg had made a fine start to the rally, joint fastest time on the second stage of the event promoted him to the lead. He was still out front two stages later when he suffered a broken trackrod end and retired.
Tommi Makinen said: "The rear dampers went completely in stage four. The car was hard to drive, it was all over the road. Once we'd got that problem sorted, this afternoon was better."
Petter Solberg said: "The car was really good this morning, everything was looking perfect. I came into a third-gear right hand corner with a little bit of oversteer, but I'm not exactly sure what happened - I think the front wheel got caught in a rut and just broke the trackrod end. This is not something which has ever happened before. It's really disappointing, but it was good to see just how well the car was going before the problem."
Both Accent WRCs suffered suspension trouble through the first loop of stages. Armin Schwarz also suffered an exhaust problem, while Freddy Loix's car was hit with a broken turbo on the final stage of the day and a throttle problem.
Both Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix have suffered troubled starts to the event. The carbon underbody protection on Schwarz's car was being burned by an exhaust system which was damaged by the rocky Turkish roads. Despite this trouble, the German was still able to set second fastest time on the stage and move into second place overall. When the car came into service the mechanics worked flat out to solve the problem, which unfortunately meant they didn't have time to replace the suspension or brakes, which slowed Schwarz through the day's final two stages. He slipped back to eighth overnight. The turbo on Loix's car was changed at first service, along with the front dampers, which had leaked all of their fluid. The Belgian was happier with the car through the afternoon, despite the turbo blowing on the final stage - and the throttle sticking open momentarily.
Armin Schwarz said: "When I started to smell the smoke coming on the fourth stage I thought straight away that it was the same problem as on Rally GB. I thought it was going to be a fire and we were going to have to stop. In the end it was okay. These stages do suit the car a little better than the ones we've had in the championship before."
Freddy Loix said: "Once the team changed the turbo after first service the car was better, but then the turbo went right near the finish of the final stage. We were lucky this happened near the finish, we didn't lose much time. The suspension wasn't right at all this morning, the fluid went out of the dampers and we were driving the car on the bump stops and sump guard. It wasn't easy to drive like that."
Gardemeister's Octavia WRC ran without any major problems today. Didier Auriol retired on the way into the day's final service engine failure. The team had been concerned about the water temperature after SS4 and the engine problem is believed to be linked to this.
Toni Gardemeister was the quickest Octavia through the opening day, but the Finn made it quite clear that he was no fan of this rally. He smacked a rock with the back end of the Octavia on the opening loop and knocked the tracking out. From then on he said he was just trying to avoid the rocks which had been pulled out by the cars ahead. Gardemeister held tenth place overnight, just 8.8 seconds ahead of his team-mate Didier Auriol. Auriol felt that the four days he'd spent testing the car prior to the event hadn't been entirely representative of the conditions he was greeted with in Turkey. The former world champion made changes to the car and pronounced himself happier, but then retired with engine problems.
Toni Gardemeister said: "I think it is a bit stupid to be driving here. The roads are very bad, there are rocks all over the place. I must have hit 100 big rocks today, this is knocking the car about quite badly. We didn't have any mechanical problems with the car, but we have had some punctures. Not good."
Didier Auriol said: "Considering that the car's not perfect for me, the times haven't been so bad. I'm going to be making some adjustments to the car; we'll be looking at the ride height and the diff mapping. After not doing so much testing for this event, I can't expect everything to be perfect."
Just as he did on round one, Suzuki Ignis driver Daniel Carlsson leads the way after the opening leg's stages. It was round one winner, Brice Tirabassi who stole the march on the superspecial stage last night. The Renault driver crashed out on the third stage, however. Carlsson was already out front by then and would continue to set a blistering pace through the Friday stages to open up a comfortable lead over Kosti Katajamaki's Volkswagen Polo. Marcos Ligato was just 3.5s off the back of the Finn, placing his Fiat Punto in third place at the end of leg one.
Among the non-works World Rally Cars, Gilles Panizzi was in fifth place overnight. His 206 WRC had run without any problems through the opening leg and the Frenchman was enjoying his first trip to Turkey. Fellow Peugeot driver Juuso Pykalisto rolled on the third stage, having scored a third fastest time in SS2. He lost four minutes while the car was put back on his wheels and ended the leg 22nd.